Looking for a Plus-Size Halloween Costume? Good Luck

Halloween Costume Inclusivity
Photo: Photo Illustration. Photos: Courtesy

In 2015, I was invited to a Halloween party and the thought of going sent me into a sheer panic. I knew I had to find a costume that would not only impress people, but fit. A Google search for “plus-size Halloween costumes” led me to Walmart (the same retailer that, as recently as 2014 labeled that section of its site, “fat girl costumes”). Everything on offer would either cover every inch of my body or play into an unfortunate trope (sexy nurse or a sexy police officer, for example). I ended up going the last-minute DIY route. It wasn’t pretty, but it was better than anything I could find in stores.

Now, Halloween 2018 is just around the corner, and I’m already tired. As a plus-size woman, it feels like it’s been an uphill battle trying to find a costume from the deep, dark depths of the Internet, and that makes no sense. Adults in America spend roughly $1.2 billion a year on Halloween costumes — you would think retailers would have figured out that plus-size women are among those dropping serious cash ahead of Oct. 31. But, the options just aren’t there.

“I don't really participate in Halloween that much anymore,” says cosplayer TaLynn Kel. All throughout her childhood, she says she felt disappointed with the cheap, vinyl offerings. “There was one year, when I, actually as a kid, was too big for my costume. I tried to dress up as Woodstock from Peanuts, and I ended up splitting the pants.”

Jasmine Grimes, a content creator, and cosplayer, faced similar challenges, thinking to herself, “Okay, I'm going to buy a costume. It's going to be super amazing, and I'm going to look good.” Unfortunately, the options she found were limited, unaffordable, and not accessible in store. “All I kept thinking to myself was, ‘This doesn’t make sense. The average size woman in the U.S. is above a size 14. Why the hell aren’t you guys stocking sizes for almost every women in America?’”

The difficulties plus women encounter shopping for Halloween costumes isn’t because they’re seeking wildly adventurous getups, either. We’re just as basic as anyone else. According to Google Trends, the top three searched costumes for plus-size women this year are a hippie, mermaid, and witch. While these options are certainly available in a prepackaged format at Halloween costume stores, like Spirit Halloween or Party City, they’re rarely if ever offered above a 3X or size 22.

And when it comes to sizing, says Margot Meanie — a plus influencer who previously worked in a popular Halloween store — looks can be deceiving. “Sometimes you will encounter (a costume) that is true to size, but often it is definitely different sizing. It is more akin to junior plus. “It is really problematic because you're constantly gambling. But honestly, the sizing is not accurate.” She says even the costumes labeled as one size fits all will run small.

But to Rainbow Chatman, another plus-size fashion influencer, the size ranges available are just one part of the problem. “I just feel like there should be more variety in what they offer. Not every costume is meant to be for a woman or super sexualized,” she says.

A quick browse online shows she’s right. Plus-size Halloween costume retailers like Torrid, Yandy, Hips and Curves, FashionNova Curve, and DollsKill all have Halloween costumes, but most of them primarily offer merchandise that falls somewhere under the sexy umbrella.

Pilar Quintana Williams, Vice President of Merchandising for Yandy — one of the leading purveyors of Sexy-Whatever plus-size costumes, confirms that the costumes they have on offer are always super sexy. “We are very feminine and we have that ‘own your sexy’ mentality,” she says, noting that the site’s varied selection of costumes (close to 400 total) ranges from sexy to modest, and goes up to a size 6X. “We want people to come on our site and find what actually looks good on their body and what they're comfortable in,” she says. The brand also uses plus-sized models to showcase everything from T-shirt dresses to deer costumes to a killer doll look (all sexified versions, of course), that are available for the curvy shopper. “We've been able to really drive home that we're really working on some options for her,” Quintana Williams explains.

On the Ashley Stewart website, you’ll find some of the typical tropes but a lot of pop-culture inspired costumes like a Dog Filter costume and one inspired by Marilyn Monroe. Tamara Ivey, marketing manager with Ashley Stewart explains, “We consider our girl. We think about her all year round and we think about every fashion need possible. I think that that's very important,” With prices ranging from $30 to $100 and with sizing up to a 5x, these are accessible in more ways than one. Ivey explains that they want their customer to not have to worry about Halloween, to dress up how she wants.

For people who are still feeling disenchanted with retailers, sometimes DIY is the way to go.

Grimes admits that even though she’s searched high and low through the websites of many retailers, she’s never quite found what she’s looking for. This is what lead her to start her series, ‘Closet Cosplay,’ in which she dresses up as popular pop-culture characters — like Erik Killmonger from Black Panther, Angelica from Rugrats, and Tinkerbell. “We've been conditioned to believe that girls are only supposed to be girl characters, boys are only supposed to do boy characters,” Grimes explains. By making her own costumes, she has the ability to embody or be anyone she wants without fear. “Not all plus size women want to show skin, they don't want to show off, and that's not wrong.”

Exploring the world of DIY can also be overwhelming and scary. But sometimes it’s about taking something you already own, and well - repurposing it. Kel explains, “Before I start any costume, I actually look at plus-sized fashion, sharing that she’ll dig through her closet to see what items of clothing she can reuse, re-design, cut up or add embellishments to for whatever idea she’s working on. “Look at all those items that, they were too risque for work or you thought people would look at you funny. This is the perfect time to pull those items out and say, what can I do with this?”

Meanie also believes that DIY is the way to go. “I derive more joy from Halloween when I get to create a piece when I get inspired by something,” she says, adding that retailers could help those who need help becoming inspired, or are new to DIY, by putting together lookbooks from their own collections or hiring influencers to put together tutorials.

As the day draws nearer, Chatman wants plus shoppers to keep one thing in mind: “Make it your own and just have fun with it, because Halloween and dressing up is meant to be fun.” But, well, skipping into a store after work before the costume party would be a lot of fun, too.

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